three pairs of lovers with space

EVENSONG AND MORWE SONG BY CHARLES SCOTT MONCRIEFF

 

The short story presented here is remarkable for anything openly published in Great Britain in the early twentieth century simply for its implication in its first paragraph of a specific homosexual act, namely fellatio. What, however, makes it quite extraordinary is that it was published by a schoolboy in his own name in a school magazine. The boy was 18-year-old Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff (1889-1930), later best known as a brilliant translator of Proust, the school was Winchester College, one of the very best in the country, the publication was the New Field, a literary magazine of which he was the editor. The story appeared, moreover, in the paper’s special “Pageant” number of 1908, which circulated widely amongst parents as well as boys and masters. Needless to say, its publication caused enough of a scandal that the magazine was promptly suppressed.[1] It was republished in 1923 by Francis Edward Murray in a limited edition of fifty copies for private circulation only.[2]

 

     ‘If Evensong and Morwe-song accorde’
     – CHAUCER, Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, I, 380.

 

I

Charles Scott Moncrieff (1st left on the back row) with other scholars at Winchester, 1903

… ‘And if we are found out?` asked Maurice. He was still on his knees in the thicket, and, as he looked up to where his Companion stood in an awkward fumbling attitude, his face seemed even more than usually pale and meagre in the grey broken light. It was with rather forced nonchalance that Carruthers answered ‘O, the sack, I suppose' – and he stopped aghast at the other's expression. Then as only at one other time in a long and well-rewarded life did he feel that a millstone round his neck might perhaps be less offensive than the picture of those small, startled features hung for all eternity before his eyes.

But all went well. Each returned to his house (they were at school at Gainsborough[3] – this in the early eighties) without let or hindrance. When in the next autumn but one Carruthers went up to Oxford I doubt if he remembered his debt to the Creator of the soul of Edward Hilary Maurice. ‘After all, had he been so scrupulous?’ he argued, ‘l am no worse than a dozen others and Maurice no better. lndeed, Maurice is getting quite a reputation. How dreadful all that sort of thing is!’ And whatever he may have remembered at Oxford, we may be certain that when with his charming nonchalance he knelt before a golfer-bishop of no mean hysterical attractions to receive deacon’s orders, he presented himself as a pure, sincere, and fragrant vessel, capable of containing any amount of truth.

 

II

William Carruthers turned a trifle uneasily in his stiff, new revolving chair as his victims entered. It was the last day of October. For a little more than a month he had occupied the Headmaster`s study at Cheddar, a school for which as a pious Gainsburgher he retained a profound contempt. This contempt was hardly diminished (to do him justice his salary was but moderate) by his having already to deal with one of those painful incidents which occur in second-rate schools almost as frequently as in the sacred Nine.[4]

Charles Scott Moncrieff, aged 16

What he said to them is not our province. His weighty arguments (mainly borrowed from the boys’ housemaster), his ears deaf to excuse or contradiction, his flaying sarcasm and his pessimistic prophecies drew great salt tears from the younger boy’s eyes on to the gaudy new magisterial carpet before that unfortunate was sent away heavily warned against further outbreaks, and he was left free to damn the other in this world and disparage him in the next. He eyed him witheringly for some minutes, and then whispered: ‘Ah, Hilary! It were better for thee that a millstone were hanged about thy neck, and thou cast into the sea, than that thou shouldest offend one of these little ones.’ He had previously consulted a concordance, and in variously impressive tones rehearsed this and the parallel passages. Chance or inspiration might have prompted Hilary, whose whole life was being ruined to correct his first offence, to cite the following verses (read in Chapel an evening or two before) which enjoin that seven offences on the same day should be balanced by the offender’s penitence. But he was silent. Carruthers, supposing him unrepentant and inveterate, lashed him with abuse that ranged from ribaldry to a little less than rhetoric; and finally dismissed him to remove his effects from his house and from Cheddar, whither he might, if well behaved, return in ten years’ time.

These effectual workings over, the headmaster turned to the second part of the expulsion office – the letter to parent or guardian. It was then that he remembered his ignorance of the boy’s address, and with some repugnance turned to a gaudy volume inscribed Ordo Cheddarensis in gold upon a red, blue and green back and sides, which had appeared there synchronically with himself. In the index he was faintly surprised to find: ‘Hilary see Maurice, J. E. H.’; and he was annoyed at the consequent delay. At last he found the reference, laid down the book (which crackled cheerily in its stiff, cheap binding), and read up his man:

‘Maurice, James Edward Hilary (now J.E.H. Hilary). Born 13 Sept., 18–– . Only son of Edward Hilary Maurice (now E.H. Hilary), of Leafsleigh, Co. Southampton, who on succeeding to that estate assumed the name of Hilary in lieu of that of Maurice. Addresses: 13 Worcester Gate Terrace, W.; Leafsleigh, Christchurch Road, R. S. O., Hants.’

As he was transcribing the address this most consummate of headmasters received an unpleasant shock. Its pages released, the book crackled inexpensively and closed itself. In its place lay or floated a picture of two boys in a thicket; of the one’s charming nonchalance; of terror sickening the other, a child that had just lost its soul. When at Oxford Carruthers had received a letter in which Maurice said: ‘It is not altogether because l must leave Gainsborough that l curse you now. But l can never send my sons there, nor to any decent school. Shorncliffe must receive them, or Milkmanthaite or even Cheddar – some hole that we have thought hardly worth our scorn. Because my sons will inherit the shame which you implanted, l now for the last time call you …’ Carruthers’ fine British reserve had elided the next words from his memory.

Charles Scott Moncrieff, aged 23

Before his ordination he had prayed for spiritual armour, and had received a coat of self-satisfaction which had so far held out against all assaults of man or woman. Now it felt rusty. Rather half-heartedly he rang and told the butler to send someone to Mr Herbertson’s house to tell Mr Hilary that the headmaster wanted him again and at once. Then he picked up the sheet of tremendously coat-armoured school notepaper, upon which a laboured and almost illegible ‘My dear Sir’ was begun. On it he drew obscene figures for half-an-hour. Then the messenger returned. ‘Please sir,’ reported the butler, ‘James that I sent up, sir, says he couldn't find no one in Mr Herbertson’s house for him to speak to, leastways but Mrs Wrenn, the housekeeper. She said, sir, as how Mr Hilary had just gone off to the station in a fly with all his luggage.’

The Headmaster of Cheddar took up his mortarboard and went out, swearing indiscriminately.

 

[1] It has sometimes been supposed that Scott Moncrieff was expelled from Winchester for his story, but not according to his biographer, Jean Findlay who quotes a letter to his father from the headmaster, whom she suspects of reacting by wrecking his chances of being admitted to Oxford (Chasing Lost Time: The Life of CK Scott Moncrieff, Soldier, Spy and Translator, 2014).

[2] Timothy d'Arch Smith, Love in Earnest: Some Notes on the Lives and Writings of English "Uranian" Poets from 1889 to 1930 (1970), p. 147.

[3] All the school named in the story are fictitious.

[4] The sacred Nine were the nine schools investigated in the 1864 Clarendon Report with a view to reform by Parliament, these being the most prestigious. They obviously excluded “second-rate schools”, but included the author’s Winchester, and implicitly the fictitious “Gainsborough.”

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